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Mardi Gras

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If you give a cruise ship the name Mardi Gras, you're setting expectations that everyone onboard is going to have a good time -- and Carnival's newest ship delivers just that. With its own roller coaster and a stunning Atrium, the ship packs a punch with lots of free dining and entertainment options.

Carnival Mardi Gras's Deck Plans

The ship offers significantly more real estate than the other Fun Ships -- the Carnival Mardi Gras size is 35 percent larger than the class of ships before it -- the line has made sure that all the old favourites are onboard and bigger than ever, and also made room for features that are bound to impress. The first one on everyone's list is the Carnival Mardi Gras roller coaster Bolt, the first roller coaster at sea -- a genuine thrill ride you need to try at least once. And then there's the Atrium, located on the side of the ship instead of the centre, a placement that allows the space to have three-story sea views during the day and become a top-notch entertainment space at night. Mardi Gras is also the first Carnival ship to be divided into "neighbourhoods" -- six to be exact. While it's by no means the first cruise ship to have themed sections -- Royal Caribbean pioneered this with Oasis of the Seas way back in 2008 -- the neighbourhoods break the megaship up into segments that are easy to navigate and enjoy. Cocktail-lovers will flock to the New Orleans-themed French Quarter, which has two of the best new bars we've seen on a ship in years: The Brass Magnolia, which has a dark lounge with live music and a lofty botanical bar complete with mixologists; and the Fortune Teller Bar, which has a kooky, spooky velvet lounge feel. By contrast, the Patio at Summer Landing area goes for an outdoor BBQ vibe with games like cornhole.

Accommodation Highlights

Rooms onboard Mardi Gras are more thoughtful in terms of design and storage than other Carnival ships. Unsurprisingly, balcony rooms and Ocean Suites are popular for their views of the sea. If you're an ocean lover, look to the Cove balcony cabins on Deck 5 - we’ve heard of people spotting marine life like dolphins from their cabin.

Dining & Leisure

Carnival Mardi Gras restaurants are stellar, but venues could be bigger. One downside to the Carnival Mardi Gras cruise ship is that while there are lots of venues, some are too small to handle a rush. The traditional theatre can only seat 900 at a time, and both the popular Piano Bar and Punchliner Comedy Club are laughably small. The fitness centre is also overly packed on sea days, while on Elegant Nights, the main dining rooms have long lines as people are drawn by the temptation of free lobster. Still, the sheer number of different free places to eat is astounding; there are so many breakfast and lunch venues, you might never eat in the buffet. Old favourites that used to be overly packed -- such as Guy's Burgers, the RedFrog bar on the Lido Deck and Alchemy Bar -- now have plenty of real estate to handle happy crowds.

Casino & Pools

The Carnival Mardi Gras Casino and Serenity Deck Pool are Standouts Other highlights include the casino, which is by far the largest on Carnival, taking up a significant portion of Deck 7. The Havana Pool is exclusive to Havana stateroom guests, but is more of a hot tub than a pool. The adults-only Serenity Deck now has a full pool, as well as two hot tubs, a bar and a salad bar. What it all adds up to is a Carnival cruise experience that delivers the affordable Fun Ship experience that people love, with a dash of sophistication that never crosses the line into snooty. Behind the scenes, Mardi Gras is the first cruise ship in North America powered by liquified natural gas (LNG), making it a cleaner burn (and indeed, you do not see smoke billowing behind the ship when you sail).

*Any costs mentioned and free dining options are subject to change and were correct at the time of review.

Daytime Fun

Carnival Mardi Gras has as much or as little as you want to do during the day, although you will find that there's less planned if you stay on board during a port stop. Wi-Fi on the ship was surprisingly great, better than we've experienced on Carnival before. We were able to connect to the HUB act at most hours of the day, and even take part in Zoom work calls. We were able to stream our Peloton workouts in our cabin and in the fitness center. Popular activities include themed trivia sessions where you can win the coveted Ship on a Stick prize; bingo (you'll need to buy tickets for this), spa lectures (although keep in mind, these are usually aimed at having you buy something). A wealth of activities are on the top deck, for kids of all ages. Chief among them is Bolt, the roller coaster, which carries an extra $15 fee, but it's worth it -- your heart really will be racing after your two trips around. If you don't want to spend money, there's still free mini golf, a ropes course with a zip line, five waterslides and a splash park for kids. This is all contained in The Ultimate Playground neighborhood so pack your sunscreen and spend the day up here. Tip: If you want to ride the roller coaster or use the ropes course, pack closed toe shoes.

Pools are a highlight on Mardi Gras. While the Beach Pool in the center of the Lido Deck might seem small, don't worry -- there are other pools around the ship for you to cool off. Chief among them is the Tides pool, on the back of the ship on Deck 16, which also has two hot tubs. Your only issue here is that you're contending with lots of people eating lunch from the nearby buffet and Big Chicken. A better retreat is the Patio Pool, down on Deck 8 in the new Summer Landing area. It seemed relatively undiscovered on our trip, and the two hot tubs near new bar Watering Hole were usually empty. Tip: If you come here to swim, bring a towel with you, as none are available on-site and you'll end up dripping your way through the ship if you don't.

One of our favourite hangs onboard, the Serenity sundeck is adults only and complimentary. On Mardi Gras, the area is super-sized to not only have plenty of comfy lounge chairs, but there's also a pool, two hot tubs, a bar and Fresh Creations. For a splurge: There are new cabanas that anyone can rent -- although suite guests have priority -- in the new Loft 19 area. Starting at $500 a day, these cabanas can fit five people, and include a bottle of bubbly, lunch and drink service, bottled water and fresh fruit. You also have access to the private infinity hot tub in the Loft 19 area. Is it worth it? We'd say only if you're in a group that wants an on-ship getaway. Otherwise, it's a bit lonely.

At Night

Live music of all kinds, busy bars, production shows and comedy clubs -- there's always something going on in the evening hours after dinner. Check your HUB app and highlight things you want to do, otherwise you might miss out.

Mardi Gras Theater: The theater is notably small for a ship this size, seating only 900 people. So if there's something that you really want to see -- we recommend the Family Feud game show -- go early; the doors usually open 30 minutes early. Carnival's Playhouse Production shows can be fun. They are usually musical revues with graphics on the screen behind them, featuring an earnestly attractive cast singing covers. All are only 30 to 40 minutes long so nothing ever feels like a long commitment.

Grand Atrium: For Mardi Gras, Carnival's architects did something different and put the atrium on the side of the ship instead of in the middle. While it can take some getting used to, the new space serves dual purpose -- the three stories of windows let in great light and sea views during the day, and then the area can be a second theater for variety shows and live music at night. The banquette seating allowed for plenty of comfy space, and the tables on Deck 8 in meant you could stop by for a few minutes of a show, without making a full commitment. On a ship like Mardi Gras where you want to sample a bit of everything, the Grand Atrium really works.

Casino: Carnival supersized the casino on Mardi Gras and it takes up a huge amount of real estate on Deck 7. You can't even cross the ship on this level without walking through it (and since part of the casino is open for smoking, you'll want to go up or down a deck if you want to avoid it). The good news is that the non-smoking side of the casino is bigger, and has the nice windows.

Bars & Nightlife

Mardi Gras is a cocktail lover's dream -- while you can still order Carnival classics like Kiss on the Lips, nearly every bar onboard has interesting drinks that are special to that particular venue. And what we find most impressive is that nearly every drink onboard -- no matter how fancy -- falls within the drink package, if you choose to buy one.

Our Picks

For pool drinks (Lido): RedFrog has grown up and developed a cheeky tiki angle. Now two stories and right in the heart of the Lido Deck, the RedFrog Tiki Bar dominates the pool area, in a good way. Drinks here include Polynesian staples like Mai Tais, Blue Hawaiians and Singapore Slings, but really, if it has rum in it, you'll find it here.

For pool drinks (Patio): Off to the side of the new Patio at Summer Landing area, the  Watering Hole isn't an obvious choice for day drinking. But all of the drinks are what we'd call thirst quenchers and go down so easy, you'll forget what time it really is (and isn't that part of the purpose of Sea Days anyway?)

For a laugh: Punchliner Comedy Club shows always draw crowds on Carnival, and it's no exception on Mardi Gras. Lines begin at least 30 minutes early.

For a singalong: Go early to get seats for Piano Bar 88. The space is small, and it's almost always packed (on our sailing, a crew member was stationed at the door to help people find seats).

For a personalized cocktail: With mixologists who make up cocktails to your taste preferences, Alchemy Bar has become so popular, the bartenders have fan clubs. On Mardi Gras, the ship has wisely made Alchemy bigger, with a longer bar and more seating nearby. What's nice is that the bar overlooks the French Quarter, so you can listen to the music below while still enjoying the banter.

For something truly different: In terms of creativity, the new Fortune Teller Bar gives Alchemy a run for its money. Decked out in velvet, mirrors and a bit of New Orleans voodoo vibe, the bar serves up drinks that have a magical vibe to them. The Abracadabra turns colors when you add a vial of pineapple juice to it. The Crystal Ball expands until you pop it with a haze of smoke. And if you want a traditional -- and potent -- New Orleans frozen daiquiri, there's a machine here. If it's quiet, the bartenders can read your palm -- although be warned, this bar gets busy.

For old-school classics: If the Fortune Teller Bar leans into the spooky side of New Orleans, the Brass Magnolia is all about Old School. It reminds me of a classic NOLA hotel bar, with bartenders in crisp white jackets who know their way around a cocktail shaker. Don't miss the Hurricanes, made the right way with juice, not mix.

For a casual glass of wine: The new Bar Della Rosa in La Piazza is more like a sidewalk café than an actual atmospheric bar. But we liked the Italian wines here -- perfect with a slice or panini -- and found it fairly busy, especially among smokers who have their area just outside.

For dancing it out: There is a nightclub onboard, the Limelight Lounge tucked away on Deck 7. But we found the dancing and cocktails more fun and lively at the Havana Bar.

Spa

The Cloud 9 spa complex on Mardi Gras is larger and has more amenities than previous Carnival ships, although you'll pay for the privilege. Prices for spa services are generally as much or a bit more than you'll find on land, and we are noticing that port day deals are also not as plentiful. The complex includes a salon for haircuts as well as manis, pedis and other services. Perhaps one of the nicest rooms in the complex is the Relaxation Room, where you wait for your massage, facial or body treatment. The room has windows, comfy loungers and a beverage station with tea and water. There's a couples treatment room that has its own whirlpool, as well as room for both of you to get a massage or body treatment at the same time.

The Thermal Suite has a larger Thalassotherapy pool than previous ships, as well as steam rooms, an aroma steam room "experience" steam showers and a salt room therapy sauna. If you love heated thermal loungers, you'll find them here, surrounding the pool. There's also a rainforest shower bank in this room. One thing that the suite doesn't have is a view; it's all pretty dark in here, with little natural light. Passes to the Thermal Suite are sold by the cruise or the day, for an individual or as a couple. Tip: If spa time is crucial to you, book a Cloud 9 spa cabin on Deck 5. There's a secret door that leads directly to the Thermal Suite and you get special discounts and amenities. What's nice about Cloud 9 spa cabins is that you can buy them in any category, including inside, and still receive the thermal suite pass and spa amenities, so it's a good choice if you know you'll spend more time in the spa than in your cabin during the day.

Fitness

The Fitness Center is on Deck 6 with a gorgeous view of… the lifeboats. Really? For a ship of its size, the fitness center seems a bit of an afterthought. While there are several banks of treadmills and cardo machines, the space for people to do weights and other types of workouts is extremely small -- on a Sea Day, people were stacked up on top of each other. It's a bit better on port days, of course. You can sign up for fitness classes and personal training, but it comes with an extra fee. The jogging track is up on Deck 18, at the back of the ship, going around the splash park and sports court. If you're going to use it, go early in the morning before the crowds come; otherwise you're going to be bumping into people constantly.

We’ve always described Carnival's food as "tasty." It may not be the fanciest or the most healthy at sea, but it almost always tastes good. And what's great about Mardi Gras is the sheer abundance of free choices onboard, particularly for breakfast and lunch -- in fact, there were so many interesting restaurants to choose from we didn't eat in the buffet at all. Additionally, when there is a charge for a meal, it's far lower than what you find on other mainstream cruise ships, and generally worth the extra money. As we were the ship's first sailing ever in July 2021, we are not going to rate the service. Suffice it to say that the ship was in "shakedown mode" in many of its busiest dining venues; long lines and waits were common, even though the ship was only at 70 percent capacity. These issues should improve as the crew becomes more experienced.

Carnival Mardi Gras Dining Options

There are two styles of dining on Mardi Gras -- traditional, with set times at the spacious two-story Palm restaurant -- and Your Time Dining in the much smaller Flamingo dining room. And here's where Mardi Gras might end up getting into trouble. The ship's architects noted that Mardi Gras requires a different dining flow, as the ship does not work if all guests eat their meals in the main dining room and Lido. On our sailing, and for what the line is calling "a limited time," several speciality restaurants -- Chibang, Cucina del Capitano and Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse & Brewhouse -- were made complimentary. It's unclear how long this will last; the line noted that any overflow from Flamingo on Elegant Night (when many guests crowd the main dining rooms for free lobster) could be steered to the second floor of Palm.

Dinners in the main dining rooms tend to be more traditional than what you find elsewhere on the ship, but Carnival makes sure that the atmosphere isn't stuffy (and if you were too worried about that, the dancing and singing waiters will assuage your fears pretty quickly). Carnival Hall of Fame entrees include prime rib, an Indian rotating vegetarian option and, of course, the warm chocolate melting cake. Note: If you crave lobster every night, you can have it. You will just pay an extra fee for it to be served from the steakhouse. Top-grade steak cuts are also available, and a note to bargain hunters -- if you price it out, the surcharge is still less than you'd pay if you had a full meal in the speciality steakhouse. Tip: On Mardi Gras, if you have Your Time Dining and want to order anything from the main dining room in an alternative venue, you can do so. We had warm chocolate melting cake in Chibang and it tasted just as good there as it would have in Flamingo.

Buffet Dining on Carnival Mardi Gras

With so many free complimentary options elsewhere on the ship, the Lido Marketplace buffet on Mardi Gras is almost an afterthought. But rest assured, whatever you want, you'll be able to find it here. The Marketplace has remained self-serve and has stations for omelettes at breakfast, and hamburgers, salad, and gelato at lunch. It's also a popular spot for families at dinner, especially on the early side. One complaint that we heard is that Marketplace was not open for late-night eats; if you have 2 a.m. cravings, you'll have to get pizza from Pizzeria del Capitano on Deck 8. 

Free Restaurants on Carnival Mardi Gras

Carnival has always given cruisers a variety of Lido deck venues, but Mardi Gras spoils you for choice -- and most are not only complimentary, but they are also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Keep in mind that not all venues are right around the pool; look for Guy's Burgers up on Deck 17 and Big Chicken is at the back of the ship through the buffet.

Big Chicken: The much-anticipated chicken shack from Carnival Brand Ambassador Shaq O'Neal lives up to the hype. The sandwiches are as good as you'd find at a fast food restaurant on land -- and the fries are incredible. There are also chicken and biscuits in the morning and chicken tenders here.

Street Food: This collection of three stands is meant to mimic food truck cuisine, and all options are tasty. Steam Dream offers Asian-inspired buns and dumplings; Mad Sizzle has kebabs, satays and pad Thai, and Time Fries has French fries loaded with toppings.

BlueIguana: The popular taco and burrito stand is back on the Lido. We've always found this particularly delicious for breakfast, when it serves up breakfast burritos.

Guy's Burgers: The new location is much more spacious and does draw crowds away from the main pool area, plus it’s closer to the teen area and sports complex. The breakfast menu includes burgers topped with fried eggs and a turkey sausage patty with bacon and hash browns.

Pizzeria del Capitano and Piazza Panini: This duo anchors the La Piazza neighbourhood, and it's almost always buzzing, partly because there's a new bar, Bar Della Rosa, in the area and partly because the outdoor smoking section is just outside. The tasty pizza spot is open 24 hours, and panini options include classic ham, a pressed Caprese, or salumeria sandwich filled with Italian meats and cheeses. Dessert is available after 8 p.m. Tip: For a fee, you can order pizza delivered to your cabin or anywhere on the ship through the Carnival HUB app.

JavaBlue: The speciality coffees here will cost money, as will some fancier pastries (we spent $3 for a delicious bacon-topped cream doughnut), but this coffee counter in the Grand Central neighbourhood has a nice array of free sandwiches for breakfast and lunch.

Fresh Creations: For lighter fare, check out this salad bar within the Serenity pool area.

Free Specialty Restaurants on Carnival Mardi Gras

A trio of speciality restaurants onboard Mardi Gras are being made complimentary for a "limited time," with no word from the line as to when that ends. Reservations are key, particularly at peak dinner hours. The same attention that has been given to cocktails at the bars across the ship holds true at these restaurants too -- even if you usually have wine at dinner, you might want to peruse the mixed drinks here. Both Chibang and Guy's have excellent options (we're still thinking about the smoked watermelon cocktail we had at the latter).

Cucina del Capitano: This casual Italian venue serves breakfast options similar to what you'd find in the main dining room. We came here for a dinner where the service was clearly overwhelmed and ended up waiting hours for food that arrived cold. We heard that both food and service were better on other evenings.

Chibang: The concept of this replacement for Jiji Asian Kitchen is a bit odd -- you can order Mexican dishes or Chinese dishes, or mix and match. We gave both a try and felt the flavours just don't always work together. Plus we found the Mexican food wasn't nearly as tasty as what you'd find at BlueIguana Cantina. And as for how it compares to Jiji…we'll just shed a tear, and wait until we're on a different ship to order Chinese.

Guy Fieri's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse & Brewhouse: It's nice to have a complimentary version of this BBQ joint, and the daily specials are worth planning your meals around. Go for the meat platters, which give you a choice of three BBQ options like pulled pork, brisket or ribs, as well as sides like Mac Daddy Mac and Cheese.

Restaurants on Carnival Mardi Gras For a Fee

Seafood Shack ($): Fancy a lobster roll? The ones here are mayo-heavy but still tasty. It's located near the free Street Eats stations, which could lead to confusion.

Bonsai Sushi and Bonsai Teppanyaki ($): This duo of Japanese offerings is definitely cheaper than what you'd find in a similar restaurant on land. The Teppanyaki, with its interactive hibachi cooking and chef banter, is fun for all ages.

Emeril's ($): Emeril Lagasse's first restaurant at sea is the culinary anchor of the French Quarter neighbourhood. You can order fresh oysters and New Orleans classics such as jambalaya, duck and andouille gumbo, and muffuletta sandwiches. The breakfast menu includes decadent bananas foster crepes that will keep you on a sugar high for hours.

Fahrenheit 555 ($$): Carnival's signature steakhouse has an upscale menu that is worthy of a date night. Indulge in Australian Wagyu beef, USDA Cowboy Steak and Maine lobster. The desserts are Instagram-worthy, especially if you get the Art at your Table for your party -- trust us, you won't need anything else.

Rudi's Seagrill ($$): New for Carnival Mardi Gras, this restaurant from Holland America Line Master Chef Rudi Sodamin brings his whimsical "food faces" plates and clever presentations to a new audience. The food is delicious and down to earth, and well worth the $38 price tag -- you'd pay much more at a similar restaurant on land.

Carnival Kitchen ($$ to $$$): Want to be a chef yourself? At Carnival Kitchen, you can take a wide range of interactive culinary classes. The classes are themed and make for a fun group event -- you can learn to make pasta, pizza, sushi, cupcakes, and even breakfast foods. On some evenings, special two-hour classes end in a full meal that turns into dinner with drinks.

Chef's Table ($$$): If you're looking for more of a gourmet experience, try the Chef's Table -- an extra fee, reservation-only meal intended to be a "foodie" experience. It's eight courses, plus some amuse-bouches served with Champagne and house wine, so settle in for the evening. Don't go if you're a picky eater, or have extensive food allergies.

Our Favorite Restaurants on Carnival Mardi Gras: Among the casual options, we couldn't get enough of Big Chicken. It took all of our willpower not to eat every lunch here. Emeril's is a nice addition with reasonable prices, and if you're looking for a date night, Rudi's is your choice. The food is genuinely high quality and at a reasonable price point, especially compared to other mega-ships. Make your reservations early, as the seats here sell out fast.

There’s a wide range of Carnival's Mardi Gras rooms, and many come with special perks such as access into reserved areas. At double occupancy, the Carnival Mardi Gras capacity is 5,282 passengers. The ship's designers put a lot of thought into cabins at all levels; there is a noticeable improvement from other Carnival ships in terms of design and storage.

Carnival Mardi Gras Cabins

All cabins have glass showers and are full of modern technology. All cabins come with two twin beds that can be made up into a queen, a vanity desk with a big mirror and instead of a coffee table, a new leather ottoman, which not only opens up for more storage, the top turns into a tray for room service breakfast. Tip: We used the inside of this ottoman to store dirty laundry). Some Carnival Mardi Gras interior rooms, and every category of cabin from oceanview on up, has a sofa bed. On the balcony cabins, the placement of the sofa can either be by the window or in the middle of the room, allowing the beds to have the best view.

A few other strategic improvements: There are USB ports next to the bed, but no plugs by the side of the bed – those are on the vanity. Modern storage in the wardrobes includes shelves that can flip up and move out of the way, and a shelf just for shoes. Additional amenities include hairdryers, safes, flat-screen TVs and mini-fridges. There's no self-serve laundry onboard, but you can send it out.  One of the more noticeable improvements on Mardi Gras is the shower door: It's glass, instead of the previously clingy curtains. There’s also a shaving bar for your legs, as well as dispensers for shampoo and body lotion (bring your own conditioner). It genuinely feels more spacious, but makes the rest of the bathroom feel small.

Make Sure to Look Up in Carnival Mardi Gras Balcony Rooms. One thing to note before you choose a balcony cabin is the ship's tiered design. Instead of the cabins being evenly placed on top of each other, there is a portion of the ship where the cabins are stacked, almost pyramid style. So if your cabin is below deck 11 toward the mid-front of the ship, the people above you will be able to look down and see you on your balcony. Tip: If you like to go out on your balcony in just a robe (or less), make sure you look up -- you might not have as much privacy as you think!

Choose a Carnival Mardi Gras Interior Room with Perks. A great aspect of Carnival Mardi Gras interior rooms is that some themed inside cabins give you amenities outside your room. A Havana interior allows you to take advantage of the Havana outdoor bar and sundeck, as well as a (very small) pool. A Cloud 9 Spa interior gives you a pass to the thermal lounge. The Family Harbor interior gives you access to a private lounge that's stocked with games and snacks specifically for kids. Or if you just want more room, a Premium interior is 205 square feet, as opposed to 158, and it has a sofabed.

Carnival Mardi Gras Havana Cabanas. The Havana Cabanas are set aside in their own area of the ship. Unlike a typical balcony room, these rooms do not directly overlook the sea -- there's a walkway in front. But your patio area is gated off and besides having loungers, there's a hammock. Passengers booked in the Havana area also have access to their own outdoor bar and sundeck, as well as a (very small) pool. Havana guests must be 12 or older.

Ocean and Excel Aft are Top Carnival Mardi Gras Suites. There are 180 suites on Carnival Mardi Gras. The new Excel suites have separate bedrooms and living rooms with dining rooms. But what really sets these Excel suites apart, particularly the Excel Aft and Presidential suites, are the large wraparound balconies. These have space for a large family to all hang out, plus a private hot tub. Suites also have access to Loft 19, a special sundeck at the top front of the ship. There's an infinity hot tub up here, and cushy loungers. We spent an afternoon up here with a pass, however, and we have to say -- unless you've decided to shell out for a cabana that gives you personal service -- Loft 19 is not all that special. You have to go downstairs to the Serenity sundeck for your drinks, and the loungers are not protected from the wind in the same way that the chairs are down there. Buy a suite for the extra space it gives you, not for Loft 19.

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